The Dark Side of Snapchat Lands the Company in Hot Water

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Law Street writer Anneliese Mahoney brought us the  ‘Dark Side of Snapchat’ recently, explaining its less-than-savory methods of use by the consumers. Now it looks like all of those dark sides have landed the company, for lack better words, in deep shit. Snapchat is facing scrutiny of its practices and policies.

On May 8, 2014, Snapchat was slapped with complaints by the Federal Trade Commission that the popular mobile messaging app deceived consumers about the ephemeral nature of snaps, among other things. Furthermore, the FTC alleged that the company misrepresented the platform’s privacy and security. The FTC’s complaints allege the following:

  1. Snapchat misrepresented its privacy and security actions in its marketing to consumers.
  2.  Snapchat misrepresented the ephemeral nature of snaps when it is known to the company that there are several ways to store the ‘disappearing messages,’ such as third party software available for download.
  3. Snapchat stored video snaps unencrypted on recipients’ devices outside of its ‘sandbox’ (in layman’s terms this means that they were stored externally from the app). Furthermore, the recipient could retrieve the ‘disappearing videos’ if he or she connected the mobile device to a computer.
  4. Snapchat mislead consumers regarding the notification functionality. If a recipient of a snap took a screenshot, the sender would receive a notification, but the FTC noted multiple ways in which the notification system could be avoided.
  5. Snapchat misrepresented its data collection practices to Android app users because the app transmits geolocation information, which is in direct contrast to the company’s privacy policies. (Clearly, marketing privacy does not mean actual privacy.)
  6. Snapchat misrepresented the security of the ‘Find Friends’ feature. Snapchat received complaints that the feature did not verify the phone numbers, therefore, consumers potentially were communicating with someone other than the designated recipient.

While Snapchat settled the FTC charges and has not incurred monetary penalties, the company was placed on probation and will be subjected to independent privacy monitoring for the next 20 years. If the company is found misrepresenting its practices again, it could face up to $16,000 per infringement. However, this is relatively minor punishment for the company in my opinion.

Do I think that consumers truly believe that all their messages are private? No, not at all. However, if your business platform is based on some degree of privacy and security, you should really make an effort to deliver on those promises — not have one security breach after another. The company was rated with one out of six stars on the ‘Who Has Your Back’  2014 report released by Electronic Frontier Foundation last week. Snapchat is truly innovative and I hope it moves faster on the learning curve because it is a great app. But, in the words of Dottie People, “get your house in order.”

Click here to read the original post by Anneliese Mahoney: “The Dark Side of Snapchat.”

Ashley Powell (@danceAPdance)

Featured image courtesy of [Jose A. Perez via Flickr]

Ashley Powell
Ashley Powell is a founding member of Law Street Media, and its original Lead Editor. She is a graduate of The George Washington University. Contact Ashley at



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